Ashley 'hopes very much' that Benitez stays at Newcastle

Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud

Antonio Conte is not convinced that missing out on Champions League football will hinder Chelsea next season, the coach offering a reminder they won the title in 2016-17 after finishing 10th. But their frustrating campaign was typified by a draw against relegation-battling Huddersfield in midweek; now they head to St James' Park to face the Magpies on Sunday needing a minor miracle to dine at Europe's top table again next year. My job is to be sure that the players are focused on the last game and if we can do well, I will enjoy the moment. It is important what the club thinks, not you. "Then we don't know, at the end of the season, if we have friendly games".

If fifth place did not live up to Conte's expectations, 10th was more than Newcastle counterpart Rafael Benitez could have dreamed of after a disappointing summer transfer window.

Conte has been the subject of constant speculation that his second season with Chelsea could well be his last.

Defeat at home too Tottenham Hotspur over the Easter weekend appeared to end Chelsea's hopes of Champions League qualification this season; Dele Alli inspired Spurs to a first win at Stamford Bridge in 28 years, and more importantly, eight points clear of their London rivals.

"I have a contract and I'm committed for this club", he insisted. "I would also like to applaud the players, led fantastically by the captain Jamaal Lascelles".

"Other people can judge our season and the problems [relating] to finish [ing] outside the top four". We have six days to change our approach and desire and will to fight.

"So, for this reason, every decision I make will be to try to win".

It was a tribute to all Benitez has done this season, as well as a plea for him to stay and build on a hugely encouraging first season back in the top flight.

There will be the customary hype preceding this Saturday's showpiece final, but the painful reality is that both finalists have each won once in their last three outings, with ManUre scoring just once and Chelsea a mere twice. At the beginning, we were thinking that the target was to stay up, and I can read about a lot of managers now saying, "Great because we are safe", but we were safe five games before, so that is unbelievable.

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